Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Americans spend far too much time looking at merchandise they will never buy.

Americans spend too much of their precious time looking at shelves and shelves of stuff they would like to own but can't afford. They park on wide fields of concrete outside giant suburban shopping outlets housing a Best Buy, a Borders or a Bed, Bath and Beyond.

One can walk into any one of these stores and lose all track of time and forget why they arrived in the first place. Eric and I did this more often than anyone I knew. We did this religiously. We would set aside entire Friday nights to drive to Borders and Best Buy in Waterford, Connecticut with long lists of CDs we thought we would like to buy.

I still have one of those lists saved on my computer. It is over four years old, and few items have been deleted since then. That's surprisingly unproductive.

Instead of walking in with a purchase in mind and walking out with that purchase in hand we would often just browse.

Eric was my classic rock sensei in those days. He knew what I should buy before I knew what I was looking for. I was told I should make moves on Bowie's Ziggy Stardust before I nabbed Alladine Sane. Springsteen's Born To Run comes before his Born In The U.S.A. (I still don't own the latter). And in his opinion The Rolling Stones' Singles Collection was not a good value at $60 a pop.

I came in armed with knowledge and often left with a list longer than the one I showed up with. We would spend an hour at a time just finding albums from artists we had never heard of. We would carry stacks of six or seven albums at a time to the preview stations. A working preview station meant a high school kid could spend a lot of time listening to an album he could not afford.

For example, Eric and I once went in intending to buy one album apiece. I left with The Police's Synchronicity. Eric left with four CDs that weren't even on his list. Yes, the preview station was a tempting device. It was like playing the slots.

Once Eric and I walked into Border's and came to a stunning revelation. We approached the music stands and noticed a middle-aged man staring very intently at a shelf in the DVDs section. He was not, it turns out, interested in the material made for our age group.

He stood there with knees bent, his hands jutting violently into the pockets in his leather jacket, and his back arched backwards. He just stood there and studied everything for sale in front of him for about ten minutes.

What did we learn that day? If you must spend a lot of time browsing merchandise at a megastore, stick to the music section. It's good to be young and broke and listening to a great album for the very first time. Some people, on the other hand, invest their time and energy in all the wrong places.

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